This old sport is as old as the Bible, and has been indulged in at all times, in all countries, and by every kingdom and nation. No wonder it is so popular, notwithstanding the strong opposition of so many religious people, and why this should be so often makes me wonder. The hunting stories of the Bible are very interesting — are not profane, but are rather pretty pastoral reading, of a poetical kind, from the dear old Book. If good Christians would think a little broader, act a little more liberally, and think no evil because they did none, then this world would be all the better, and the next one sure to those who followed the commandments, obeyed the same, and humbly followed the Lord to the Cross. In the religion of the present day, to my thinking, there is too much selfishness and too little of that democracy taught by Christ when on earth. Why should heaven be for the few and the favoured, and why should those (at least a few) professing religion do and say things that a man of the world would scorn and disown? Let anyone just think these things over, and maybe he will soon discover why the men of to-day cannot be gathered into our tabernacles. A strong man making this discovery, and fearlessly preaching a living doctrine, free of cant, selfishness, and hypocrisy, might (and would, in my opinion,) bring back the people to the fold of Cod again. What a funny digression, many will say, from the peculiar subject mentioned to begin with, and my excuse is that I was bound to follow the meanderings of thought suggested by the theme considered to be so wicked by the correct Christians, that one could not miss the chance to lecture them a little from the standpoint of what they deem wickedness and folly. They will say, very likely, “Satan preaching the Gospel.” Never mind; if my surmises are not true, they will need no answering.
Let us proceed on the journey we set out with, and that is hunting. All of my time, and those of more before me, have reminiscences of hunting the hare in and around the beautiful hills which surround Slaithwaite. My old mother told me in my childhood a story of Phoebe, of Heath, catching a poor run hare in her apron, and thus saving the poor thing’s life from the jaws of the hounds. Old Edward Brook, the well-known local Wesleyan preacher, used to tell the stories of his hunting days with delight, and I should say after all these years of reflection that anything done under this head by him (to my notion) never would or could hinder him now of heaven, and this not being his order of going in, the dear old man would have a double entry.
We never had a real good hunting parson like Canon Kingsley, but we have had many who would just look on, but not openly avow the chase — for want of courage, say I, boldly, for whatever harm could befall the most saintly of men by following a little healthy sport between two animals equally equipped by their Maker; and, besides, the good gained in health more than repays for the labour.
The early hunters of my day were old Tom Kaye, of Holmfirth, a quiet and orderly man, well-beloved by all who knew him, and maybe his memory keeps up the name of the chase to the present generation, for they have at this town one of what is called the best packs of working-men’s hounds in the country, supported by a few local subscriptions, and run on such lines of economy that at the end of each year they are not much in debt.
Whoever can forget the princely conduct of the generous Sykes’s, of Lindley, Tom Hirst, etc., etc., at the high tide of the Honley Hunt, with the genial Sam Norcliffe, the popular master? Nothing was short in those days, down to the poor follower, who had many a helping hand in various ways and glorious days of sport.
Saddleworth, too, had its pack of hounds. Mr. Malladew was master in my time; in later days it died out under Mr. Broadbent, and now there is nothing left to tell the tale but the large number of trail-hunt dogs, which are bred and kept for this latter sport, very popular over this part of the country, embracing bits of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire, over the hills, which are often roamed to the scent of the aniseed, and for the prize at the end of the trail.
Meltham from the time of “Old High Brow” has not done much. It supplied G. Taylor, the long and popular huntsman, to the Slaithwaite pack, who is living in happy retirement from the chase, and, I am glad to say, in better health. Long may he live! Mr. Charles Brook, of Durker Roods, the now deservedly popular master of the Badsworth, began his hunting career with a pack of beagles at Meltham and on Honley moors; and, if it were a day of confession, and one would get him to own up, I venture to think he would say they were the happiest days of his life. If they were not so to him, they were to me, because we could so well keep up with the dogs without any physical pain, and always be in at the finish.
Mr. Fred Eastwood, Huddersfield, has always been very fond of the sport. At one time he kept his own back at Crosland Moor. Had some splendid days together, and may we have many more with so good a sportsman.
Slaithwaite has been more continuous. Bight well do I remember in my early days Mr. John Horsfall and his first beagles, under that famous hunter, Walter Barker, who for a lifetime hunted the Slaithwaite pack under the various masters who followed in succession, nearly to the present day. First Mr. Horsfall, who, though passionate at times, was a good fellow, and to his death had the shooting over Lord Dartmouth’s estate.
Mr. John Haigh (a Slaithwaite man) followed Mr. Horsfall, who by this time had got the hounds the proper size, and for years gave splendid sport with Old Walt all over the district. Mr. Alec Walker, Mirfield, another good sort, followed, a modest man, who will never push himself forward, but is always there at the finish if there is anything to do or anything to pay. One exception I must make, the gentleman will not make a speech, and it would be quite as well if many who think they can talk would do less. This leads to the last lap, and that is to Mr. Henry Lockwood and his brothers at Black Rock Mills. They have been so liberal in their generous support that if this is continued the Colne Valley Hunt has a great prospect in store. Peace has been made in Crosland; Lord Dartmouth’s Slaithwaite estate, by the kindness of Mr. Crowther, is entirely at the Hunt’s disposal; the two Marsdens and the dear old Daniel Hall favourable: so that with the new huntsman coming on nicely and that friend and supporter, John Vickerman, grumbling to make him do better, there seems in store some grand sport for this neighbourhood in the coming by and by, and the only wish left is that poor men may be there to see it — a hope not to be realised, for both dear Aleck and poor George Taylor have gone before to their happy hunting ground.
Slaithwaite Notes: Past and Present (1905) by John Sugden